Political RoundUp: February 2007

Don’t make them mad: It’s a good thing Sonny Perdue doesn’t have to run for governor again, because he’s making thousands of retired teachers and state employees quite angry over the prospect of losing their health insurance benefits. For more than a year, Perdue and his top aides have been mulling proposals to reduce or eliminate retiree health care coverage as a means of dealing with a future liability estimated at more than $15 billion. If any cutbacks are made, teachers will be more outraged at Perdue than they were when they helped vote Roy Barnes out of office in 2002.

Revolving door spins faster: Back when Sonny Perdue was in full-throttle ethics mode, he used to complain about the “revolving door” mentality that allowed legislators to become lobbyists as soon as they retired from

the General Assembly. That revolving door has been swinging even faster in the opposite direction since Republicans took control of state government. In his four years as governor, Perdue has hired three lobbyists in a row to be his chief of staff – the latest is well-respected Georgia Power veteran Ed Holcomb. Craig Lesser, a past lobbyist for Mirant and Georgia Power, served as Perdue’s commissioner of economic development. The new secretary of state, Perdue protégé Karen Handel, also hired lobbyist Rob Simms as her top deputy.

Suffer the children: Perdue may also want to rethink some of the criticisms he hurled at Roy Barnes during that 2002 governor’s race. Perdue blamed Barnes for several unfortunate incidents where children died after they had been in the custody of child welfare caseworkers and proclaimed, “It’s unacceptable that we would have children dying in state care.” In Perdue’s first term as governor, however, several children in state custody were killed as a result of child abuse. To add insult to injury, the state was also fined $4.3 million by the federal Administration for Children and Families late last year for failing to adequately improve the way it protects children from abuse and finds homes for foster children.

A growing delegation: Georgia’s fast-growing population has resulted in crowded roads and crowded classrooms, but there is also an upside to it. The latest population estimates released by the Census Bureau indicate that the state will add at least one and possibly two U.S. House seats to the 13 it already holds after the 2010 census. Other states that probably will get additional seats are Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Utah and Texas. States that could lose congressional seats because of slow population growth are Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Goodbye Charlie?: U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood’s recurring medical problems – he re-ceived a lung trans-plant in 2004 and is being treated again for cancer – are prompting speculation that the Evans Republican may not run for another term in 2008. Republicans such as state Rep. Barry Fleming and Democrats such as state Rep. Jeannette Jamieson are said to be eyeing the seat, just in case Norwood actually decides to step down.

Musical chairs: The new congressional boundaries drawn last year by Republican leadership in the General Assembly didn’t achieve their intended goal of knocking Democratic congressmen Jim Marshall and John Barrow out of office. But other people in state government fell victim to that redistricting – a side effect was the displacement of several persons serving on state commissions where seats are allocated according to congressional districts. The state Board of Natural Resources, for example, lost two members, Ralph Callaway of Pine Mountain and Sara Clark of Alpharetta, because they found themselves in the same congressional district as other board members. Callaway was a Sonny Perdue appointee; Clark was originally placed on the board by then-governor Zell Miller.

Moving on, part one: Dorothy Olson has been running the state capitol museum for a long time; her duties include keeping the displays updated and making sure that the most popular ones, like the two-headed calf, remain accessible to capitol visitors. But Olson herself has been banished from the office she had always occupied on the fourth floor of the capitol. Her office space was taken over by the state Senate, which forced her to move across the street to the Georgia Building Authority complex.

Moving on, part two: No U.S. House member in the 1990s was a more fierce partisan fighter than Bob Barr, the Cobb County Republican congressman who sparked the ultimately successful effort to impeach Bill Clinton. Just four years after he lost his congressional seat, however, Barr has officially switched to the Libertarian Party. Over the past few years, Barr has been an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush.

Categories: Political Notes